Any advice on healing pet death trauma in a little one?

Oh, my poor little 7yo daughter!
Through an unfortunately series of events, late last week she witnessed Linda’s dogs attacking and killing her pet rat Trixie. Worse, she was alone in the house at the time. At least she was smart enough not to intervene, I suppose, so she didn’t end up bitten by the dogs in the middle of their frenzy, but still…
Since then she’s had a sadness in her heart – unsurprisingly – and bedtimes have been quite atypically difficult, 1-2 hour affairs that end with her sobbing and thinking about her poor Trixie. It’s very sad.
Problem is, I don’t really know how to help other than to hold her and assure her that Trixie is in a better place. But I want to just pluck the heartbreak away, I want to have a better clue about healing a trauma of this nature and I just feel clueless.

Personally I haven’t really had much experience with death, either of people or pets, and while I consider that a blessing, it’s left me unprepared with no comforting stories or shared experiences with which to ease her pain.
Even our beloved standard poodles Jasmine and Karma ended up staying with Linda when we separated and divorced (they were about 15 at the time) so when they both passed away, I had already separated myself from the situation.
Otherwise I can only imagine the horror of the situation, K- trying to figure out why the dogs were scrabbling madly under a piece of furniture just to have her rat run out with the hope she’d rescue it. The dogs intercepted it and before her eyes killed it. It makes tears run down my face both for the experience of the little rat, certainly a terrible death, and even more for the experience of my little girl who had to come face to face with death in a way no child – or adult – should ever experience.
I know that there’s a common belief that replacing a dead pet with a new one is a good strategy, but it seems to me that it’s not going to do anything to ease the pain of her experience and, frankly, Linda’s the one with all the pets anyway. I have a cat, Newton, that’s awesome cool and very social. She has two dogs, two rabbits, gerbils, rats and a 50gal fishtank.
The core question, however, isn’t whether to replace, it’s how to comfort. Anyone have a few words of wisdom on how to help a child overcome the sadness of losing a pet coupled with the rather grisly experience of witnessing its death so horribly?

6 comments on “Any advice on healing pet death trauma in a little one?

  1. Not sure if this will help, but when we had to put our dog down, we focused on the happy times we’d had together. Do you have stories you can share about playing together, feeding special treats, things that made Trixie happy? Perhaps by focusing on those parts of Trixie’s life, her end can start fading a little. Though it will never fade away completely, maybe it can be overcome by sweeter memories.

  2. Wow, what a horrific event…
    I have done many workshops on death and young children and I actually wholeheartedly disagree with replacing the pet.
    But since you are not really asking about that and since death has already occurred, she simply ust go through the stages of grief, you can look these up.
    You simply need to be there to answer her questions honestly. If you dont know the answer, tell her that. Take things easy for a while.
    There are some good books like, Saying Goodbye to Lulu
    Goodbye Mousie
    They are a little younger picture books, but good conversation starters.
    Other than that, finding something to do to honor Trixie like planting a tree
    I hope she got a chance to go through some rituals with burying her and saying goodbye. If not, maybe consider doing so now. It will help tremendously.
    Good luck…

  3. Hi. I have stumbled across your blog by chance, and deeply saddend to read about your little ones experience.
    I have two girls around the same age and we too have lost pets, although fortunately through natural causes. Each time has been very difficult and all i have been able to do is comfort them and allow them to grieve. One strategy that worked really well when our hamster died was to donate the hamster cage and accessories to a local charity. this way, not only did we talk about the loss and grief, but also the good that has come for another child and their pet.; sending love and hugs to you and your daughter. xx

  4. From my time in the health-care field, I can offer a little advice based on dealing with death in children’s hospitals. (My first experience with this came when someone had to explain the sudden death of a 5-year-old to her 6-year-old best friend…)
    1. It’s important to be honest with kids about death — including your own feelings and insecurities on the subject. Kids can sense when adults are hiding things from them, and this scares kids far more than any truth ever could.
    2. If your child is having trouble falling asleep, she may benefit from meditation or “visualization” techniques. (There are books on the subject, or you could consult a child psychologist.) Once she masters these techniques, they will also serve her well in dealing with future difficult events.

  5. That’s terrible that she’s confronted with such weighty issues already. A couple things that I tell people in my counseling about mourning is to lean heavily on spiritual beliefs if you have them. While some beliefs may seem pretty nonsense for grownups, kids pick up on them and hang on to them for support. Even if you’re not sure you believe them, your kid may really appreciate them and lean on them for comfort.
    Also, if you don’t have any personal experience with the death of a pet you could watch a movie with your daughter like Marlie and Me where the animal dies in the end. That way you could experience it together and talk about the movie. She will easiliy be able to connect the dots between Marley and Me and her own situation. It will also give you and your daughter a way to connect.
    Hope it helps.

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